Tuesday, May 8, 2012


When the rain’s blowing in your face and the whole world is on your case, I would offer you a warm embrace, to make you feel my love
-Bob Dylan

Ah the human touch, it’s nice isn’t it? Nice when it’s appropriate. Nice when it is delivered with good intentions. One good hug, and I do mean a good hug, not one of those “stiff armed pat you on the back” hugs, a good hug, can really make your whole day.

Physical touch is something all animals, including human animals, need. It’s how we bond. And as evidenced by babies who do not receive touch, lack of touch affects the rest of their lives negatively. Conversely babies and children who are massaged and held and hugged regularly score much higher academically along with being well socialized. When we’re sad nothing soothes the soul like a hug, a good one. Think of the last time someone cupped your face in their hand or touched your cheek. It was nice wasn’t it? Sadly, touch can be delivered in such harmful ways. An open hand gently touching your cheek is lovely, but what if that same open hand is delivered with greater velocity? The same action, but with the wrong intention and pressure, can go from loving to hateful and hurtful in no time. An intimate act of love can be turned into a malicious act of ugliness. Some people can hug me, but not all people. Touch is quite particular . . . and powerful. Touch can help immensely, or harm immensely. But I don’t want to talk about ugly stuff, not just yet.

Think of the different ways in which we touch others; with our hands, our hearts, our words, our intentions, our body language, our smiles and frowns, our laughs and our tears. We carry beautiful moments around in our hearts, our minds eye, and sometimes more tangibly in the form of a saved letter or a text or an email or a card. How fun is it to go back and re-read these and recall the way it made our hearts flip? Love love love it. Our muscles also hold memory. Many is the time people have unexpectedly cried on my massage table. Something from long ago is triggered, something forgotten surfaces and can then, gratefully and at long last, be released. In the same way, many is the time I have cried in my yoga class. Stuff comes up, stuff gets released, but also, it’s just nice when someone touches you. Whether it’s a hug, a massage, or a gentle stretch from your yoga instructor, it’s awesome. C’mon, you know it is, you love it.

Let me tell you about how blessed I am in my life and share just a few of the ways I have been touched in my life:

1) I had dental surgery yesterday, jealous? The blessed part is how many of my friends reached out to me. I received so many phone calls, emails, and text messages. I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of love. And not just a quick “How ya doin’?”, but continual check-ins and endless offers of help. Follow up calls and texts and emails today. I am truly touched, touched by their words and open hearts and generosity. Maura, Mindi, Laura, Kim, Jen, Rachelle, Missy, Therese, and so many others, thank you.

2) A handful of years ago I had a client that I will never, ever forget. She was an elderly German woman who survived World War II and came to America to start fresh. She shared stories of her life with me, and in turn asked me about my life; I shared stories with her. At the end of our time together she asked if she could pray for me. Who wouldn’t say yes to this? But I thought she meant in a more general way, until she took my hands in hers. My client held my hands and prayed for me. I cried as it happened. I cry when I re-tell the story, every time I re-tell the story, I cry now as I remember it and write about it. Clients have generously tipped me, given gifts to me, candles, cards, scarves, candy, all kinds of tangible gifts . . . but this woman held my hands, bowed her head to mine, and prayed out loud for me. Now that, my friends, is a gift. That was some years ago and her prayer for me has not yet been answered, but it will, of this I have no doubt. She touched me in many ways.

3) Lately I felt shattered, snot slinging, shoulder shaking shattered. I called Therese. All she can hear through the phone is the guttural sound of my wailing. She says to me “Oh honey.” Mind you at this point she has no idea what is wrong, only that something is wrong. I continue my epic battle with speech and she softly coos to me “Ok, take your time, I’m right here.” As I continue sputtering she asks “Are you safe”? I know that answering this question is imperative and I, not unlike a moose in heat, bellow out “Yes.” And with that she is satisfied to just listen, as long as it takes, and continues patiently purring into the other end of the phone “Whenever you’re ready, I’m right here, I’ll listen when you’re ready, take your time, I’ll be right here.” Her comforting and mothering tone soothes my broken soul, and touches me.

And there are many more blessings; moments in my life that I can pull out and relive anytime I want. A kiss on top of my head, standing on daddy’s feet and holding his hands while we “danced” around the living room, mama’s proud smile when I won a writing contest in school, the very first time I received flowers (16 roses on my 16th birthday from my brother, Lee), another brother (Eddie) racing out the front door to scoop me up off the street and in to the house after a particularly nasty fall off my bike, the very deep sense of love I felt the first time I saw my niece, watching B.D. look at the river and tell me how to find fish (having someone share their passion with me is touching), sitting on a ski lift with Therese trying to determine what sort of horrific terror would make us leap off the lift to the slope below, hot dogs with Rick on the last day I ever saw him alive. All of these moments with all of these people have touched me, they are woven together to form pieces of me, gifted by others. I am blessed and touched by many.

I can also conjure up painful memories of ugly words and how they made me feel. It hurts, eh? Even some words I know were not meant and only thrown out in a fit of anger or frustration can sting my heart and twist my stomach. We’ve all said things that we know we shouldn’t have, it happens. I recently told someone I hope their relationship turns to crap, oh yes I did. I said it. And now we get to the aforementioned ugly part, as well as the part where I have to humbly admit my own shortcomings. I’d like to be able to say, at this point, that I feel badly about having said it and I didn’t mean it. But here’s the thing; that would be a big fat lie and lying is not a way to touch people kindly. Because I am who I am, I don’t feel badly and I really do mean it. I know, I’m craptacular sometimes. I should have just kept my mouth shut, but I didn’t. I’m human, I lashed out and touched someone harshly. I could roll out about 1000 defenses here, i.e., “but what I meant, but what happened before, but it doesn’t really mean . . .”, what good is that? That just makes me look even smaller than just being a shit heel in the first place. When you make a dick move at least own up to it and don’t point out all the reasons, be they real or imagined, that it’s ok to make a dick move. A dick move is a dick move.

Try your best to make your touch appropriate, whether it’s physical, verbal, written, or furtively sent across a crowded room. And let me just hand out this little nugget of thought; while generosity is beautiful in some arenas, being discreet and ensuring your “special touch” is special to only a small group is, indeed, a prize to be valued. Touch people with love, and while there is always enough love for all and none should be withheld, there is a beauty in giving very particular sorts of love to only a very small and very particular group, if you catch my meaning. Don’t go “spreading your seed” all over the place, that hardly makes it special now, does it? People like to know they are part of an elite group of a fortunate few, to be otherwise is just cheap and tacky and meaningless. Yeah, I said it, I’ll say it again if you make me. You know I will.

The words we use, the intonation with which we speak those words, a look across a sea of people that is meant only for you, a hug, a whisper, a pat on the back, a tearfully shared moment, a joyfully screaming and jumping up and down happy beyond control moment, a toothy (or toothless) grin, these are all ways we touch each other. Our touch holds an enormous amount of power, be responsible, never use your power for evil. Others have entrusted you with the care and feeding of their hearts, know how remarkable that is and take care of this gift; don’t just blithely waltz in and out of people’s lives, don’t spew out pretty words you don’t mean and have no intention of living up to, don’t spit out cruel words; they are worse than a slap on the face. Just as the sun can touch your skin with warmth and love, the rain can cleanse and cool your soul giving you a fresh start, so can the winter ice sting and burn with its cold clampdown.

Touch people in your life, hug your mama, hug your spouse, hug your children, and hug your pets. Use your manners with your words, say ma’am and sir and please and thank you. Words are powerful and with them you can easily gain respect . . . or just as easily lose that respect. And remember, there is always a pretty way to say something ugly (try to avoid being craptacular). Sometimes the truth hurts, but you can deliver it mindfully. Never tell a lie, never back down from the truth, you can say it, don’t run away, just man up and do it, and be kind while doing so. Honor others, and honor yourself, and don’t follow me as an example. We are responsible for our interactions with each other and the affect our words, our touch, and their intention have. We are, indeed, our brothers keeper. Think enough of yourself to do right by others.

All y’all are awesome, love ya, mean it!